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General Articles: Breaking the Wall

By Guest Writer on April 21, 2008

Breaking the Wall

This is the first of a two-part series about the field of game design. This first article talks about how to break the wall and get into game design. The second part will detail a bit about how design works from the inside.

At one point or another, most people who play games have probably at least entertained the thought of getting into game design professionally. Game design isn't like law or medicine though – there's no bar or exam to pass, so how exactly does one break into the field?

The most important thing to realize about breaking into game design is that it is very much subject to the laws of supply and demand. There are very few game design jobs of any sort available, and there are a whole lot of people who want to be designers. And many of the people applying for the few open game design positions are not strangers to the industry, either. In addition to people in areas like QA or CSR, it is not uncommon to see programmers or artists want to switch fields.

Different developers will have different biases and be looking for different things, but there are ways you can better position yourself to dramatically improve your chances of breaking in to the industry.

First, while it is not impossible to come in off the street and get a game design position, it is very, very unlikely. Internships are available from some places as well, and if you can find one can be a highly effective shortcut.

While "game designer" is not generally an entry-level position, what you can do is get a job that is an entry-level position, but that is a recognized feeder into game design. If you are already a programmer or an artist, both of these are in parallel areas of game development that work very closely with design, and as such are superb ways of cracking the wall.

What if you don't know code and your idea of art is drawing stick figures? You're not out of luck, but the path is a little longer. Publishers will almost always have large QA (Quality Assurance) and CSR (Customer Service) departments, and developers will usually have at least the first, and occasionally the second. QA departments at developers tend to be smaller and have better access to the developer, so they are generally a better route into game design. But because there are generally fewer available positions, competition can also be fiercer.

If you wind up with a job in QA or CSR at a publisher, never fear. Publishers also frequently run their own first-party development studios which occasionally have openings, and it is perfectly possible to move from a publisher position to a similar position at an outside developer.

Secondly, because there are so many applicants for so few positions, it can help to have ways to distinguish yourself. For this, I can tell you a secret:

Creativity is good, but it isn't primarily about the creativity.

What? Heresy! No, truth. Everyone – designer, programmer, artist, QA, CSR, marketing or executive – is convinced their ideas are the best, the most creative, the most interesting and the most innovative. A designer certainly should be creative, and being creative will definitely get you noticed, but it's generally not what will close the sale.

What will close the sale is the ability to demonstrate professionalism, practicality, understanding of the way development works and the relative costs and risks of different paths. Most importantly of all, however, is the clear ability to check your ego at the door and identify the best approach or design regardless of whether or not you were the one to think of it.

Game design is still a job, and it's amazing how frequently people forget this. All of the factors that apply to any other job – professionalism, courtesy, responsibility, confidence and diplomacy – all apply equally well in this field. Although game development is generally more informal than many other fields, it is still a business, and it is important to remember this.

Finally, being a game designer is not the same thing as being a game player. This sounds obvious, but in interview wrap-ups it is one of the points that comes up again and again. Obviously, you need to be able to enjoy playing games and to identify what aspects of gameplay are fun – this goes without saying. What you also have to do, however, is to separate the "game player" hat from the "game designer" hat, and start asking a whole new set of questions.

What is fun? Why is it fun? What alternative approaches could be envisioned? What are the risks and consequences to other systems for each alternative approach? What principles of the game must be adhered to in order to maintain the vision of the game or company? What resource restrictions are there – it might be great to have another year to polish something, but what do you do if you don't have an extra year to polish?

Above all, it can take a lot of persistence and a lot of patience to break the wall and get your foot into the world of game development. But if you do, the rewards are unmatched.

Read this article at the original source here.